“The performance was good. There were a lot of changes. That was my decision to make them, but I don’t think they affected the rhythm of the team. They were as good defensively as they were in attack.”- Reading Manager Steve Clarke
“I think Reading started really well and bright. When you get lots of changes you get into a little bit of the unknown. You’re not sure how they’ll gel as a team, but I think they did that extremely well.”- Everton Manager Roberto Martinez
Despite a spirited performance from Championship club Reading, a full strength Premiership side Everton advanced through to the next round of the Capital One Cup after their 2-1 victory. The Royals initially took the lead through Nick Blackman but Everton made a comeback in the second half with Ross Barkley and Gerard Deulofeu handing them the victory.
Prior to the game Reading manager Steve Clarke stated that he would be making changes to the starting squad. I’m not sure many would have foreseen eight changes being made to the starting line-up, however, with Chris Gunter, Michael Hector and Nick Blackman being the only three members of the squad retaining a place. Everton, meanwhile, started with a strong team including the likes of Romelu Lukaku, Phil Jagielka, Ross Barkley and Arouna Kone from the off to name only a few.
Both sides got off to a tentative, scrappy start and neither team really threatened early on. Everton did work the ball around in the home box but some resolute defending from Reading prevented any real shooting opportunity from arising. As the home side settled down and found time on the ball, however, they started to build momentum and push on into the final third. As time went on, Reading began to dominate and Nick Blackman initially came close to scoring from outside the box. His effort, however, was tipped over the bar by Joel Robles in the Everton goal.
Another opportunity arose for the Reading striker when some nice interplay between Chris Gunter, Paolo Hurtado and Lucas Piazon found Blackman in the box but his shot was stopped by the keeper once again. With the Reading crowd urging their players to shoot on every occasion, Aaron Tshibola was next to have a shot from range but his effort was once again punched unconvincingly by the Everton goalkeeper. Reading continued to knock on the door with yet another opportunity arising straight after, this time from the subsequent corner. The corner was drilled into the front post where Ola John was awaiting for the flick on but Jake Cooper couldn’t quite meet it at the far post to knock it in.
With ten minutes remaining in the first half, Reading’s man of the moment made their increasing pressure count by scoring the opening goal of the game. Credit should go to John, whose break down the left wing and subsequent inch-perfect cross laid it on a plate for Nick Blackman to add another goal to his ever increasing tally. Reading were deservedly on top and looked fully capable going into half-time of causing an upset.
At half-time, Everton made a change by bringing on Gareth Barry in place of Arouna Kone and it was this that swung the balance in Everton’s favour. With Barry’s arrival in a more defensive position, Barkley was able to operate more offensively and it was this that allowed him to make an increasing impact on the game. One concern for the away side would have been the early departure of highly-regarded defender John Stones who was replaced by Brendan Galloway.
The home side were able to hold on until the hour mark but it was the ever threatening Barkley who levelled the score. Following an Everton corner, Reading failed to clear their lines properly. Instead the ball was headed out by Fernandez to an unmarked Barkley on the edge of the area and his sweetly struck volley found its way past Ali Al-Habsi in the Reading goal. Based on his positioning, it could be said that Al-Habsi should have done a lot better but it was a finely struck effort nonetheless.
It was Everton’s winner just ten minutes later, however, that will have upset Reading fans even more. Gerard Deulofeu had made himself an enemy amongst the home crowd during the first-half due to his consistent need to fall to the floor at every given opportunity. Despite suggestions of simulation on numerous occasions, the referee failed to even brandish a yellow card for his antics. Quite predictably, therefore, it was the Spaniard who scored from a free-kick twenty-five yards out to ultimately win the game for the Toffees.
While Al-Habsi could have done better with the first goal, there was no doubt he could have done better with the second. With practically no bend on the strike and not an overwhelming amount of power, the Reading goalkeeper should have been able to get a firm punch on the ball and push it out wide. Instead he was only able to push it onto the post and subsequently into the back of the Reading net. The Oman international, however, did step up to stop Lukaku putting the game beyond any doubt as he raced off the line to block the ball on the edge of the area.
Steve Clarke made two changes in an attempt to find another goal in the second half bringing on Garath McCleary and Danny Williams. McCleary came closest to scoring with his long range effort but luck was not on Reading’s side with the subsequent deflection seeing it go wide. Another chance fell to Williams but his effort flew over the bar and some nice interplay between McCleary and Gunter on the right wing came close to cutting the Everton defence open had the final ball been better. Ultimately Reading were unable to find the goal that would level the score and Everton saw themselves through to the next round. The Reading squad as a whole, however, put up a resolute performance against tough Premiership opposition.
Special mentions have to go out to academy products Michael Hector, Aaron Tshibola and Jake Cooper. Tshibola was strong in midfield and looked completely at ease despite playing against some of the best midfielders in the top league. Hector and Cooper, meanwhile, kept Lukaku quiet for the vast majority of the game and put in a commanding performance at the back. Defensively Andrew Taylor also put in a great performance for the home side. When I saw his name on the team sheet and saw that he would have Aaron Lennon running at him I was somewhat concerned I will admit, but he was amongst the most impressive performers and maintained composure throughout.
The game also gave fans the chance to have a good look at signings Piazon, Fernandez, John and Hurtado all of whom put in good performances in the midfield. John in particular was looking strong and Piazon demonstrated the skill he possesses on several occasions. Fernandez and Hurtado looked a little edgy to begin with but as the game went on they settled down and both looked confident on the ball. As they develop and continue to cement an understanding with their fellow players you feel that they can be real assets to the squad in the upcoming months.
A continuing concern for the supporters, however, is the performance of the goalkeepers. Reading were able to limit their opposition to only two shots on target. These two shots ended up being goals. If both efforts were world class attempts then Al-Habsi may have been forgiven, but having seen them again several times he should really have done better. For Reading fans their concern is that last season goalkeeper was the strongest position on the field and now it is probably the weakest. Bearing this in mind, they will have a lot to prove as the season goes on.
Based upon the performance of the Reading squad as a whole, however, the Championship side should be proud of the game they gave Everton. What is apparent is that Clarke has a mightily impressive squad on hand and subsequently many will be expecting the Royals to achieve great things this season. Having pushed Everton all the way, confidence will still be high as their focus returns to the league and Burnley on Saturday.